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Berengar of Tours

Born: c. 999 AD
Birthplace: Tours, France
Died: 10-Jan-1088
Location of death: Priory of Saint-Cosme, France
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Early anti-transubstantiation theologian

Berengar of Tours, or Berengarius, a medieval theologian, was born at Tours early in the 11th century; he was educated in the famous school of Fulbert of Chartres, but even in early life seems to have exhibited great independence of judgment. Appointed superintendent of the cathedral school of his native city, he taught with such success as to attract pupils from all parts of France, and powerfully contributed to diffuse an interest in the study of logic and metaphysics, and to introduce that dialectic development of theology which is designated the scholastic. The earliest of his writings of which we have any record is an Exhortatory Discourse to the hermits of his district, written at their own request and for their spiritual edification. It shows a clear discernment of the dangers of the ascetic life, and a deep insight into the significance of the Augustinian doctrine of grace. Sometime before 1040 Berengar was made Archdeacon of Angers. It was shortly after this that rumors began to spread of his holding heretical views regarding the sacrament of the eucharist. He had submitted the doctrine of transubstantiation (already generally received both by priests and people, although in the west it had been first unequivocally taught and reduced to a regular theory by Paschasius Radbert in 831) to an independent examination, and had come to the conclusion that it was contrary to reason, unwarranted by Scripture, and inconsistent with the teaching of men like Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. He did not conceal this conviction from his scholars and friends, and through them the report spread widely that he denied the common doctrine respecting the eucharist. His early friend and school companion, Adelmann, Archdeacon of Liége, wrote to him letters of expostulation on the subject of this report in 1046 and 1048; and a bishop, Hugo of Langres, wrote (about 1049) a refutation of the views which he had himself heard Berengar express in conversation. Berengar's belief was not shaken by their arguments and exhortations, and hearing that Lanfranc, the most celebrated theologian of that age, strongly approved the doctrine of Paschasius and condemned that of "Scotus" (really Ratramnus), he wrote to him a letter expressing his surprise and urging him to reconsider the question. The letter, arriving at Bec when Lanfranc was absent at Rome (1050), was sent after him, but was opened before it reached him, and Lanfranc, fearing the scandal, brought it under the notice of Pope Leo IX. Because of it Berengar was condemned as a heretic without being heard, by a synod at Rome and another at Vercelli, both held in 1050. His enemies in France cast him into prison; but the Bishop of Angers and other powerful friends, of whom he had a considerable number, had sufficient influence to procure his release. At the council of Tours (1054) he found a protector in the papal legate, the famous Hildebrand, who, satisfied himself with the fact that Berengar did not deny the real presence of Christ in the sacramental elements, succeeded in persuading the assembly to be content with a general confession from him that the bread and wine, after consecration, were the body and blood of the Lord, without requiring him to define how. Trusting in Hildebrand's support, and in the justice of his own cause, he presented himself at the synod of Rome in 1059, but found himself surrounded by zealots, who forced him by the fear of death to signify his acceptance of the doctrine "that the bread and wine, after consecration, are not merely a sacrament, but the true body and the true blood of Christ, and that this body is touched and broken by the hands of the priests, and ground by the teeth of the faithful, not merely in a sacramental but in a real manner." He had no sooner done so than he bitterly repented his weakness; and acting, as he himself says, "on the principle that to take an oath which never ought to have been taken is to estrange ones self from God, but to retract what one has wrongfully sworn to, is to return back to God", when he got safe again into France he attacked the transubstantiation theory more vehemently than ever. He continued for about sixteen years to disseminate his views by writing and teaching, without being directly interfered with by either his civil or ecclesiastical superiors, greatly to the scandal of the multitude and of the zealots, in whose eyes Berengar was "ille apostolus Satanae", and the academy of Tours the "Babylon nostri temporis." An attempt was made at the council of Poitiers in 1076 to allay the agitation caused by the controversy, but it failed, and Berengar narrowly escaped death in a tumult. Hildebrand, now pope as Gregory VII, next summoned him to Rome, and, in a synod held there in 1078, tried once more to obtain a declaration of his orthodoxy by means of a confession of faith drawn up in general terms; but even this strong-minded and strong-willed pontiff was at length forced to yield to the demands of the multitude and its leaders; and in another synod at Rome (1079), finding that he was only endangering his own position and reputation, he turned unexpectedly upon Berengar and commanded him to confess that the had erred in not teaching a change as to substantial reality of the sacramental bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. "Then", says Berengar, "confounded by the sudden madness of the pope, and because God in punishment for my sins did not give me a steadfast heart, I threw myself on the ground, and confessed with impious voice that I had erred, fearing the pope would instantly pronounce against me the sentence of condemnation, and, as a necessary consequence, that the populace would hurry me to the worst of deaths." He was kindly dismissed by the pope not long after, with a letter recommending him to the protection of the bishops of Tours and Angers, and another pronouncing anathema on all who should do him any injury or call him a heretic. He returned home overwhelmed with shame and bowed down with sorrow for having a second time been guilty of a great impiety. He immediately recalled his forced confession, and besought all Christian men "to pray for him, so that his tears might secure the pity of the Almighty." He now saw, however, that the spirit of the age was against him, and hopelessly given over to the belief of what he had combated as a delusion. He withdrew, therefore, into solitude, and passed the rest of his life in retirement and prayer on the island of St. Côme near Tours. He died there in 1088.

Berengar left behind him a considerable number of followers. All those who in the middle ages denied the substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist were commonly designated Berengarians. They differed, of course, in many respects, even in regard to the nature of the supper. Berengar's own views on the subject may be thus summed up: 1. That bread and wine should become flesh and blood and yet not lose the properties of bread and wine was, he held, contradictory to reason, and therefore irreconcilable with the truthfulness of God. 2. He admitted a change (conversio) of the bread and wine into the body of Christ, in the sense that to those who receive them they are transformed by grace into higher powers and influences -- into the true, the intellectual or spiritual body of Christ. The unbelieving receive the external sign or sacramentum; but the believing receive in addition, although invisibly, the reality represented by the sign, the res sacramenti. 3. He rejected the notion that the sacrament of the altar was a constantly renewed sacrifice, and held it to be merely a commemoration of the one sacrifice of Christ. 4. He dwelt strongly on the importance of men looking away from the externals of the sacrament to the spirit of love and piety. The transubstantiation doctrine seemed to him full of evil, from its tendency to lead men to overvalue what was sensuous and transitory. 5. He rejected with indignation the miraculous stories told to confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation. 6. Reason and Scripture seemed to him the only grounds on which a true doctrine of the Lords supper could be rested. He attached little importance to mere ecclesiastical tradition or authority, and none to the voice of majorities, even when sanctioned by the decree of a pope. In this, as in other respects, he was a precursor of Protestantism.



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